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Cock E.S.P. on 20 years: Breaking up is just another thing we're bad at

Cock E.S.P. on 20 years: Breaking up is just another thing we're bad at

Cock E.S.P. is a Minneapolis-based noise outfit that marks their 20th anniversary this year. And whether or not you are someone who can sit down and really enjoy the experience of listening to their music, it's pretty difficult to argue with the pure intent and ethos behind their work. They exist in a space where making a statement about the current musical landscape is a far more important goal than any other, and that statement seems to be that music, like any art form, needs to be transgressive in order to stay interesting.

For a band that's been around in some form or another for two decades, they don't appear to show much sign of slowing down. Their last full-length release, Historia de la Musica Cock, is likely their most ambitious work to date. It serves as a sort of tribute to the last century of experimental music and art through short, violent blasts of noise, each track rarely exceeding 40 seconds. Also worth mention are the hilariously low-brow, play on word references to everything from French composer Claude Debussy to Dadaist painter and sculptor Marcel Duchamp sprinkled throughout the song titles. It's a dense piece of work that flies by in just under 38 minutes.

Ahead of tonight and Thursday's shows at the Hexagon to commemorate their years together, which are poised to be their most improvised and unhinged yet, founding member of the band Emil Hagstrom was nice enough to sit down and answer a few of Gimme Noise's questions.

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Gimme Noise: You've been the sole member of Cock E.S.P. to stay on board for the entire time, but would you have imagined in retrospect this project surviving for 20 years?

Emil Hagstrom: I never expected or planned for it to keep going -- we've tried to break up several times, even having farewell shows, but it turns out breaking up is just another thing we're bad at. Also, in the last couple years I've realized I'm not good at anything else, so I just default to Cock E.S.P.

Do you think that there is a larger niche for your music and style of performance now than there ever has been before?

There's a much larger niche for noise, but it's not a good thing because most of it's really boring. And as more people get exposed to lame noise, rock clubs who would've booked us like 10 years ago won't do it now because they lump us in with all the heads-down tabletop knob-twiddlers.


Have you found that audience response to your shows has changed over the years, as far as their willingness for aural and potential physical abuse? Or not so much?

More people are familiar with us now, so I guess more of the audience knows what to expect. But otherwise it's been about the same over the years -- some people get it, some people threaten to call the cops. I've always wanted to include people from the S&M scene into our performances -- they would enjoy the pain and humiliation as much as we do -- but I'm sure that would fail just as much as everything else we've tried to plan in advance.

How large of a role does improvisation play in both your recordings and live performances?

Our live shows are improv to the extent that anything we try to plan in advance tends to go horribly wrong anyway. Even the time we roped in some bona fide musicians and practiced a set of G.G. Allin covers to the point where they sounded great -- it fell apart when we played it live. Although the highlight of the set turned out to be two of our performers doing a lesbian sex act on stage, which was better than what we had planned. I've found it's better to just not think too much about the show in advance, and just watch it unfold however it does -- it will probably fail, but usually fails in an interesting way. As far as recordings, as far as the plan being just to make a lot of noise I suppose that would be considered improv. But it's heavily edited and manipulated into the final product -- it's very time consuming to make noise which sounds interesting, and that process is carefully planned out in advance.
 
I read a quote recently from you where you talk about viewing your performances as being in tune with the universe in the sense that they are an entropic event, and that they sort of represent the "beauty in decay and destruction." Does a theme of disorder and destruction like that in your live performances drive your work more than any other?

Yes, I'd say so. The decay and destruction -- as well as dick jokes -- are the greatest influence on the overall themes and concepts of our art.

Do you recall any specific moments where the disorder or destruction at a show got to be a little out of hand, even by your standards?

There have been a few shows which got out of hand, but we never actually instigated them ourselves. For example, there was a show on our first European tour where German punks kept pulling us off stage and repeatedly punching us in the face because they thought we sounded too much like Atari Teenage Riot. But if it's something we're responsible for, the reaction is almost always positive. For instance, after putting a big hole in the wall of an Oakland warehouse space, the people who ran the space asked us to autograph it.


Can you guys tell us a little about what you're doing to celebrate 20 years of life? Upcoming shows perhaps, and what to expect?

We're playing two shows at the Hexagon on June 5 and 6; the 5th is opening for a great Japanese noise-grind duo Sete Star Sept, Thursday is the International Noise Conference with a couple dozen bands/performers of wildly varying styles headlined by the Laundryroom Squelchers from Miami. The INC has been an ongoing annual noise fest in Miami, starting 10 years ago, where dozens of bands play sets of 15 minutes or less, and no one is allowed to use a laptop on stage. It's also grown into a touring event, where each city hosts the Squelchers and whatever other local/international talent they wish to book. My bandmate Jason Wade is organizing this particular event, and I'm really impressed by the line-up: different types of music, not just noise, as well as stand-up comedy, magic, performance art, and even someone from Bulgaria.

Lastly, what's your favorite venue to play in the Twin Cities?

The Hexagon.

Check out Cock E.S.P. at Hexagon Bar Wednesday, June 5, and Thursday, June 6 as part of the International Noise Conference. More info on the lineup here.


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